STRANGE GH: Farm hand target of lynching

Apr 23, 2012


Lambertus Voskamp was born December 1823 in Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1850. He settled in Wright Township, Ottawa County, where he worked as a farm hand.

It is likely that Voskamp was a widower, and he was described by those who knew him as a tramp or transient. He was also described as not having all his wits.

On the morning of May 9, 1881, Voskamp shot and killed his employer, Lamont-area farmer Lyman H. Cady, after demanding his pay. Voskamp wanted his pay on the spot, and wasn’t happy when he was told he’d have to wait.

Voskamp was hired for the summer and had worked only 18 days when he murdered his employer.

Cady — age 29 at the time of his death — left a wife, Abbie, whom he married Dec. 30, 1877, in Lansing; and a 16-day-old child. Cady was a well-liked and highly respected farmer whose father, James F. Cady, had been one of the early settlers of Wright Township.

Voskamp discharged his revolver five times. Reportedly, the last two shots were fired after Cady had fallen to the ground.

“Got enough? Will you pay me now?” Voskamp was reported to have remarked.

Sheriff John Vaupell was summoned and arrived at the murder scene to discover a crowd of Cady’s neighbors had a rope around Voskamp’s neck and were about to lynch him. Vaupell was able to defuse the situation and brought Voskamp, by rail, to the jail in Grand Haven to await trial.

Lambertus Voskamp was the only person in Ottawa County history that came closest to actually being lynched. And, it almost happened again.

According to newspaper accounts, on May 15, 1881, an organized mob of 250-300 men conspired to break Voskamp out of the cell at the Grand Haven jail with intentions to lynch him. Sheriff Vaupell had been forewarned of the plot and sent a request to the governor to order 40 troops from Company F, who stood guard at the entrance to the jail.

At 11 p.m., the crowd — reported to be friends and acquaintances of Lyman Cady — marched silently toward the jail and were surprised at the preparations made to receive them. Prosecuting Attorney George McBride met them upon arrival and reasoned with the would-be lynchers. The men retreated.

A second, but smaller-in-scale, attempt to apprehend Voskamp from jail was successful on June 22 when a dozen “respectable” farmers from Wright Township converged on the jail during the night. The men overpowered a deputy and took the keys to Voskamp’s cell, gaining access to the killer.

Sheriff Vaupell was away during the breakout, but his wife heard the commotion; and, with the help of concerned citizens, thwarted what was a third attempt to lynch the killer. Members of the small vigilante group had actually gone as far as to place a rope around Voskamp’s neck when the drama was halted.

On Aug. 1, Voskamp entered a plea of not guilty at his hearing before the judge at the Ottawa County courthouse.

Because of high local emotions, a change of venue was secured on Aug. 31, and the trial took place in Kalamazoo in December. Voskamp’s defense was not guilty by reason of insanity.

After a weeklong trial, the jury was handed the case on Dec. 13, 1881. The 12 jurors deliberated for 90 minutes, and delivered a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree.

Voskamp was sentenced to life in Jackson Prison. In 1898, he was moved to the Asylum for Criminal Insane in Ionia, where he died shortly after 1910, at the age of near 90.


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